Beyond the simplistic drag-and-combine mechanics, merge games have lately grown more intricate, incorporating nuanced meta-layers and bridging with other game genres.
The ripple effect?
An industry-wide shift with merge mechanics seamlessly integrating into even mid-core games.
Let’s explore how this shift happened and what it means for the industry and for game publishers.
What Are Merge Games?
Merge games are a subgenre of puzzle games where players combine items or elements to form new, often more advanced items.
Think of it as digital alchemy; starting with basic elements, players are tasked to merge and evolve them to progress in the game. As simple as the premise sounds, it’s the underlying mechanics, rewards, and the satisfaction of progression that have made them immensely popular.
A Short History of Merge Games
Merge games, while now a cornerstone of the gaming industry, started humbly. Here’s a brief journey through their evolution.
Flagbearers (Late 2010s)
Merge games made their mark on the mobile gaming scene in the late 2010s. Initial iterations were simple, offering casual players a relaxing yet engaging experience.
Games like Merge Dragons! and Merge Magic! became the flagbearers and set the benchmark for success. These titles introduced richer graphics, expansive worlds, and a wider variety of elements to merge, adding a bit of depth to the once straightforward gameplay.
Market Boom (2020)
During this time, games like Merge Mansion and EverMerge were released. By late 2020, the market reached its peak in terms of saturation. 2021 saw a decline in the merge games market.
Peak and Evolution (2023)
By early 2023, the merge games market was back on track and reached new heights.
The challenge for developers was no longer about introducing merge mechanics, but about innovating within them. That led to the introduction of meta-layers, hybridization with other genres, and even integration into mid-core games.
But before we get into all of that, let’s take a closer look at the current state of the merge market.
Merge Games Market in 2023
According to data from AppMagic, the merge games market soared in the beginning of 2023. That means one thing – merge games are more popular than ever!
In terms of downloads, there was a peak in January 2023. After that, the downloads dropped off a bit, but are still high for merge games.
Merge games revenue was more stable than downloads, showing a slow but steady growth over the years.
Top Merge Games in 2023
The leading merge games in 2023 so far in terms of downloads are titles like 2248 Numbers Game by Inspired Square, Love Paradise – Merge Makeover by Rosecrab, Merge Miners by Supersonic Studios, X2 Blocks by Inspired Square, and Merge Studio by Paxie Games.
Top-grossing merge games in 2023 include:
- Merge Mansion by Metacore
- Merge Dragons by Zynga
- Travel Town by Magmatic Games
- Gossip Harbor: Merge and Story by Microfun Limited
- EverMerge by Bigfish
Overall, it’s a mix of OG merge games like Merge Dragons, games released during the 2020 boom like Merge Mansion and EverMerge, and games from the latest wave of merge games.
But what do most of these games have in common? What’s the secret to their success?
Let’s find out.
Hybridizing Merge Games
Most top-grossing merge games feature various meta-layers that add depth and complexity to the simple merge mechanics. For example, adding a decoration meta to the simple merge core.
In 2023, this hybrid approach has become more important than ever – it’s the only way to stand out and offer something new to players.
Data confirms that.
Simple Merge vs. Merge with Meta
If we compare two main merge games market segments, simple merge games vs. merge games with meta, the answer is clear – merge games that feature meta-layers are infinitely more successful.
But that’s what’s great about merge games – they’re incredibly adaptable. Also, combining merge mechanics with various meta-layers is fairly straightforward as merge gameplay goes well with pretty much any feature.
Here are some examples from top-performing hybrid merge games.
Examples of Hybrid Merge Games
Merge Mansion stands out in the merge game genre by blending classic mechanics with engaging narratives and design elements.
In this game, players are tasked with restoring a grand old mansion using merged items. By combining like items, players craft tools and objects which assist in the mansion’s restoration. But what elevates Merge Mansion from its peers is the unfolding narrative; as players progress, they unravel the mansion’s mysteries, keeping them hooked.
It’s a lot like Homescapes, but with merge mechanics instead of matching.
But this game isn’t just about merging.
Players must manage their inventory, deciding on immediate merges versus long-term strategy. There’s also an element of time management, as some tasks take time to complete. These layers, combined with the story-driven quests, push players to strategize, intertwining the core merge mechanic with narrative progression.
EverMerge intertwines popular fairy tales with traditional merge gameplay. In this game, players find themselves in a world populated by familiar characters from fairy tales and legends.
Merging items to unlock parts of the land and reveal well-loved characters.
While merging similar items remains at the game’s core, EverMerge introduces a captivating twist. As players combine items, they also discover story arcs involving popular characters like Cinderella or Puss in Boots. These narratives not only add depth but also serve as incentives, encouraging players to merge strategically.
Beyond merging, EverMerge integrates light resource management. Players have to decide when to harvest resources and when to merge for bigger rewards.
Love & Pies
Love & Pies serves as a great example of how romance storylines and merge gameplay can meld seamlessly. Players step into a quaint town where the objective isn’t just about merging items but also helping the main character, Emma, rebuild her café and rekindle romance.
At the heart of the game is the standard merging mechanic, where combining items yields tools and ingredients essential for café restoration. But what sets Love & Pies apart is its narrative depth. As players merge and progress, they are treated to episodes of Emma’s love story, adding emotional stakes to each merge decision.
Beyond the core merging mechanic, players must manage resources to ensure the café’s success, which directly impacts the unfolding of Emma’s romantic storyline.
The merge game Gossip Harbor dives deep into the heart of high-stakes drama and decision-making. Set in a bustling coastal town, players aren’t just merging items but are also immersing themselves in the lives and stories of its vibrant inhabitants.
At its core, players merge items to unlock various town elements, from new boutiques to cafes. But just like in Love & Pies, the real allure of Gossip Harbor lies in its intertwining narratives. As players progress and unlock new sections of the town, they’re privy to the town’s secrets, relationships, and unfolding dramas.
Players merging decisions can also influence the course of these narratives. The resources and items chosen for merging directly impact character interactions and story revelations.
Travel Town transports players into a world of exploration and city-building, where every merge is a step towards new adventures. Players are not merely combining items; they’re creating and shaping an ever-evolving town inspired by their travels.
The foundational merge mechanic allows players to combine items and unlock landmarks and structures reminiscent of world-famous destinations. As players merge and expand, they embark on virtual journeys, experiencing the essence of various cultures and locations.
Beyond the primary merging, resource management is key. Balancing when and what to merge determines the town’s growth trajectory and the subsequent travel-inspired narratives unlocked.
Seaside Escape: Merge and Story
Seaside Escape: Merge and Story is set on the calming shores of a coastal town. Here, players are not just merging items, but also diving deep into the stories and mysteries of the seaside inhabitants.
Each merge unravels bits of the town’s history, relationships, and even hidden treasures. There’s also a prominent renovation/decoration meta where players restore and decorate the town.
What makes this game stand out is its LiveOps strategy, which includes various in-game events.
Love Paradise – Merge Makeover
Love Paradise is a newer game, released in late 2022, but it’s already making waves in the merge market.
What makes it stand out is the unique combination of merge core gameplay and makeover meta-layer. Essentially, it’s Project Makeover, but with merge mechanics.
Players get to express their identity and creativity through creating different looks and immersing themselves in the world of fashion. The merging aspect is also makeover related as players merge items like makeup, clothing, and accessories.
But it’s not all about merging items and doing makeovers, this game also has a narrative aspect, an essential meta-layer that’s present in most leading merge games.
Utilizing Merge Mechanics in Other Genres
The infusion of merge mechanics into non-merge games is another innovative trend, offering players a fresh experience while retaining the core essence of the original gameplay.
Here’s how three popular titles have integrated this mechanic.
The match-3 renovation game Homescapes introduces players to the world of Austin the butler and guides them to revamp an old mansion through puzzle-solving.
The inclusion of merge mechanics enhances the gameplay.
Instead of merely matching tiles, players occasionally encounter levels and events where they merge similar items to create new decor pieces or tools. In this game mode, the main loop is to merge items, complete tasks, earn currency, and win prizes.
Township is a casual city-building and farming game. Players cultivate crops, manage facilities, and develop a town.
The merging mechanics are integrated primarily as game events. Players merge items to create items to complete various tasks and they get rewards.
An interesting feature is that merging in Township requires energy points. Players get energy points by playing match-3, buying them, or simply waiting.
This is a great example of how the addition of merge mechanics is tied with the core gameplay as well as the game’s monetization system.
Cash Tornado Slots
At its heart, Cash Tornado Slots is a casino slot game, where luck dictates the outcome. However, the addition of merge mechanics has spiced up the slot experience. Players now can merge similar slot symbols or bonuses to amplify their rewards.
This merging process not only elevates the anticipation but also offers a more interactive experience, making each slot spin even more exciting.
Merge Mechanics in Mid-core Games
Merge mechanics don’t only work with casual games.
One of the most interesting trends is the adoption of merge mechanics into mid-core games. The result is an interesting combo and a refreshing gaming experience that can appeal to a wide audience.
Here’s an example.
Top War is a combat strategy game where players train armies, build bases, and engage in large-scale battles.
The introduction of merge mechanics adds a unique layer to unit progression. Instead of traditional leveling systems, players can merge identical units or buildings to evolve them into stronger versions.
This offers a dual strategic edge: players must decide which units to merge for immediate battlefield advantage versus long-term growth, making each merge decision pivotal for overall warfare dominance.
Merge Games Market: Final Thoughts
For developers looking to tap into this thriving market, several key takeaways emerge.
Firstly, understand your audience; integrating merge mechanics should enhance the player’s experience, not complicate it. Secondly, stay authentic; while it’s tempting to ride the merge wave, ensure the mechanic aligns with your game’s core essence. Lastly, prioritize innovation; continually seek fresh angles or combinations to stand out.